Case for Space, a damning report on the size of the UK's "shameful shoebox homes" that are too small for modern living and detrimental to our health and family well-being, will be launched this week by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and given exclusively to the Evening Standard Homes & Property ahead of publication.
It reports that UK homes are the smallest in Western Europe and have been shrinking in size for at least 20 years — to an average of 76sq m. In Denmark, the average new-build home is 137sq m — 80 per cent bigger than in the UK.
We are the only country that does not have minimum space standards setting floor areas
The report's findings are based on an audit of thousands of homes produced by the UK's top eight builders (listed below). Houses as well as apartments are failing the size test. The average new three-bedroom house in England is 92 per cent of architects' recommended minimum size (96sq m), "missing" eight square metres of space, the equivalent of a bedroom.
We are allowed to produce rabbit-hutch homes because we are the only country that does not have minimum space standards setting floor areas. UK space standards were abolished in 1980. Now the RIBA has set up a campaign for bigger homes, appointed a Future Homes Commission and launched a website (homewise.co.uk) for a "nest test" organised by chief executive Harry Rich, who says buyers are being short-changed on space.
This research will find support from Mayor Boris Johnson, whose London Plan imposes minimum space standards for affordable housing in the capital (one-bedroom flats can be no smaller than 550sq ft, equalling 51sq m) and the expectation is that this benchmark will be embraced by the private sector.
The Mayor is also keen to promote better house design as a way of keeping middle-class parents in London. During the property boom, about 95 per cent of new homes built in London were flats. Analysts believe this proportion could drop to less than 70 per cent by 2014. With lower and slower price rises (out of central London), and in a recession, buyers are finding bigger, better-value homes rather than boxy buy-to-let flats and discovering that builders are already creating in niche areas such as glamorous waterside sites, warehouse developments and mansion conversions with bigger, more intelligent designs.
Sizing up builders
Though the truth is that new homes in general are smaller, they remain popular because they have other advantages: energy-efficiency, low maintenance, better security, structural guarantees and the latest fixtures.
According to a recent YouGov poll, energy efficiency is the feature people value most about new-build homes, while the lack of storage space is the most common complaint. But people do not mind fewer rooms if the ones they have are the right configuration with open-plan layouts.
Lessons are learned
Developers are at last challenging the traditional idea of the house as a box with rigidly defined room uses, and offering wall-less rooms that integrate with each other, the terrace, patio and garden.
They argue that they have to balance producing a home that people like to live in and one they can afford, and say that pressure from government to build as many new homes as possible results in smaller properties. Everybody wants more space, but if you increase the size of homes without making more land available, the cost will go up, according to the Home Builders Federation.
Housebuilders investigated by the RIBA were Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Bellway, Berkeley, Galliford Try, Crest Nicholson and Lovell Partnerships. They collectively account for more than a third of all new homes in the UK. The average-size one-bedroom home (flat or maisonette) is 46sq m (495sq ft).
Barratt says it is now building one-bedroom apartments of up to 832sq ft (77sq m) at Dalston Square in east London. This size excludes a 150sq ft winter garden, an enclosed balcony with windows that can be folded back in summer. Prices in the latest phase start at £365,00O. Call 020 7241 1883.
Berkeley Homes emerges well from the RIBA report, building three-bedroom houses that are 10sq m bigger than average.
Some developers are better than others at using creative design and room planning to maximise limited space at no extra cost. "One of our design principles is that rooms should be sized according to their usage," says Sean Ellis, managing director of St James Homes, part of the Berkeley Group.
"Often it's better to have a big combined kitchen and family room as the place where everyone congregates."
Space has an important psychological impact. Cramped spaces deflate the spirits, whereas open, light spaces are uplifting.
"You feel better walking into a house with a big hall, especially one where there is a glimpse of outside garden space. We also use glazed internal doors to borrow light from other rooms." Basements and "bonus rooms" in what used to be attic space are other added-value extras.
A new phase of townhouses has been launched at Queen Mary's Place, a 14-acre estate in south-west London. These have 1,486sq ft of space and feature a large open-plan kitchen/family area on the ground floor, plus an upper-floor lounge and balcony, a garden and off-street parking. Prices start at £684,950. Call 020 8246 6748.
Weston Homes is now selling at King's Island at Denham Uxbridge, 15 minutes from Heathrow and 20 minutes from London. Here, in a gated community, spacious townhouses incorporate flexible folding doors opening on to gardens and balconies, with all homes overlooking mill rivers, waterfalls and the Grand Union Canal. Lighting and layout are uplifting, with natural solid oak, pale marble floors and glass balustrades allowing light to flow through all floors.
There are 24 three-and four-bedroom new-build and listed conversion family homes and 127 one-and two-bedroom flats. Many are about 800sq ft and costs £297,000, with four-bedroom homes at 2,011sq ft priced £684,000. Call 0845 638 5010, or email email@example.com.
Room to spare
Fairgreen Place, Croxley Green, Hertfordshire has classic-looking houses that aren't out of place on the village green but which spring a surprise behind the front door with big, wow-factor living spaces. Ranging between 4,000 and 4,500sq ft, they are ideal for country-loving commuters. Prices from £2.3 million. Call 01923 776400.
Tapestry Building is a Georgian warehouse conversion in the heart of the Square Mile. Fourteen tasteful apartments range from 1,400 to 3,500sq ft, have an open-plan living space, concealed storage, walk-in wardrobes and utility room. Prices from £1.4 million. Call Savills on 0845 474 1771.
The Walpole Collection, Ealing is part of a new "heritage range" of houses by Redrow Homes, and these 2,880sq ft plus Edwardian-style villas overlook 28-acre Walpole Park. Completion is due in spring next year. Prices from £2 million. Call 020 7758 8477.
The Lismore, Clapham, has spacious two-bedroom apartments (typically 936sq ft, more than a third bigger than the London average) with clever storage solutions. Prices from £495,000. Call Hamptons International on 020 7758 8495.